IS MY RELATIONSHIP ABUSIVE?
Domestic violence can be difficult to identify, especially for the person experiencing it. I am blogging about my own personal experience in an abusive relationship. For reasons I am still trying to understand, I remained in an abusive relationship for more than four years. How is it that I finally have the strength and courage now to share this part of my life? An abusive relationship clouds one’s thinking and ability to discern fact from fiction in addition to the creation of doubt, shame and blame. This is my chance for serious introspection during this time when I see my life clearly.
The abuse I experienced caused me to enter into a very introspective time during which I spent a vast number of hours researching this topic of domestic violence, specific to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered communities. I hope that within several blogs I will be able to break my personal situation down to a series that will take the reader along a path from the more general, almost research type approach I take when attempting to understand new information, to a more specific view of my own personal world.
I have come to know that people sometimes misunderstand domestic violence and think it is only physical abuse when actually, it can be emotional, financial and/or sexual abuse as well. Abusers often manipulate victims so that they feel they are to blame for the abuse. Sometimes gay abusers will try to tell their partners that “this is how it is in a gay relationship”. Abusers often promise to change their behavior, and the hope for that positive change can keep a victim from identifying the pattern of abuse in the relationship.
Am I Being Abused?
How can you determine whether you’re being abused? Every relationship is different and many relationships have rough patches with arguments and other turmoil. Though some behaviors may be hurtful, no one behavior determines whether a person is being abusive. Also, intimate partner abuse takes many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, identity and financial abuse. Review the following list of signs of possible abuse:
Are you in a relationship with someone who:
• Keeps you from spending time with friends or family members?
• Makes you account for your time when apart from him/her?
• Is excessively jealous and possessive?
• Makes unreasonable demands for your attention?
• Blames you for all the arguments or problems in the relationship?
• Wants to make all the decisions?
• Invades your privacy – opening your mail, reading your e-mail or going through your personal belongings?
• Gets angry for no apparent reason?
• Seems like two different people – one is charming or loving, the other is mean and hurtful?
• Lies in order to confuse you?
• Criticizes, ridicules, humiliates or belittles you?
• Controls your finances or feels entitled to your financial support?
• Damages your property?
• Harasses you at work or school?
• Threatens to out you at work, to your family or to others?
• Criticizes your body and appearance?
• Prevents you from practicing safe sex?
• Forces or coerces you to have sex or hurts you during sex?
• Becomes angry if you don’t go along with his/her sexual demands?
• Blames his/her behavior on alcohol, drugs or his/her own history of abuse?
• Pressures you to use alcohol or other drugs?
• Threatens you with physical harm or makes you feel afraid?
• Pushes, shoves, grabs, punches, hits or strikes you with hands or fists?
• Threatens or assaults you with weapons, such as household objects or knives?
• Manipulates you with the constant threat of mood changes and impending rage? Has you “walking on eggs” or living with constant stress, anxiety or fear?
Get More Information
If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, you may want to learn more about partner abuse and take a serious look at your relationship. Start by reading and educating yourself at your local library or the Internet specific to these topics:
Definition of Domestic Violence
The Types of Abuse
The Cycle of Abuse
A very helpful book is Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them by David Island and Patrick Letellier.
What to Expect
An abuser has two goals: one, to hold his/her partner in the relationship and two, to control his/her partner’s behavior so the partner meets the abuser’s needs. Abusers can be astonishingly devious in creating tactics to meet these goals, but there are some common maneuvers:
It’s More Than Physical
Most people think of abuse as physical but there are four other types of abuse: emotional, sexual, and financial and identity. Even if he/she’s not hitting you, he/she could be abusing you. Verbal or emotional abuse, for example, is almost always used even if physical abuse is not. Abusers can be extremely creative in the types of abuse that they use. Also, abuse usually follows a cycle with standard phases: first he/she is nice, even super nice; second, he/she starts being mildly abusive; third, there is an abuse attack; fourth, he/she is apologetic, loving and contrite. But the cycle just starts all over again and again and again.
Abusers will try to convince their partners that their abusive behavior is “normal” or “normal for a gay (G), bisexual (B) or transgender (T) relationship”. This tactic is especially effective with people who are inexperienced in gay relationships. Abuse is not normal in any relationship, including gay relationships. Abuse has no part in a healthy relationship.
“You’re the Abuser, I’m the Victim”
Partners may defend themselves against abuse, such as physical abuse. An abuser may assert that this self-defense is abuse and that the partner is the abuser. Or the abuser may claim that the partner is “mutually abusive”.
A common characteristic of abusers is the lack of responsibility they take for their own behaviors. They may accuse their partners of being the “abuser” and they, sometimes, genuinely believe that they are the “abused” party. They may use this claim to manipulate friends, service providers and law enforcement. An abuser, for example, may seek a restraining order against his/her partner, claiming the partner is the abuser.
“You’re to Blame”
Another ploy is to blame the partner for “making” the abuser abuse. The abuser will claim that he/she would not abuse if only the partner did X or if the partner didn’t do Y. Again, the abuser is trying to shift the responsibility from him/herself to his/her partner. Unfortunately, this tactic is all too successful. Partners often assume too much responsibility not only for the abuser’s behavior but also for the relationship as a whole. The reality is that the partner can not stop the abuser from abusing.
“It’s the Stress, Drugs…”
Abusers sometimes claim that some circumstance forces them to abuse and if only the circumstance were to change, they would stop. They blame their abusive behavior on such circumstances as stress, lack of a job or the use of drugs (especially crystal meth) or alcohol. These are only excuses. There always will be some circumstance that in their minds justifies their abusive behavior.
Abusers commonly promise to change – to stop abusing, to stop using drugs, to stop whatever. These promises often follow an abusive incident. The goal of these promises is to win back the partner and to hold him in the relationship. The abusers may believe their own promises, but the goal of the promises is not to reform their behavior but to keep their partner. Once the partner indicates that he is staying in the relationship, the promise is forgotten.
No Legal Protection
Abusers may attempt to convince their partners that no one will help them and that they are not entitled to legal protection from abuse. There is help available.
Ending the Abuse
Experience has shown that once abuse begins it is very likely to continue and become more frequent and more severe over time. Research suggests that abusers are also very unlikely to end the relationship. Partners who are abused have two choices, either to stay and be abused or leave. Partners can and do have compelling reasons to stay in an abusive relationship. Abusers rarely end the relationship because in most cases they psychologically need the partner more than the partner needs them. They can be quite successful at hiding their dependency on the partner and their fear of losing him, and they often work to convince the partner that he would be lost without the abuser. Whether a partner stays or leaves, it is wise to have a safety plan to maximize his safety.
If any of these maneuvers sound familiar, you may want to not only get more information, but seek assistance from a resource knowledgeable about domestic violence.
What to Do
Reach out for help! There is help available!
Gay men often do not reach out for help because they believe there is no help out there for them. Services specifically for gay men are limited but they do exist. There are gay-friendly services of all types such as mental and physical health care providers, counselors, social service agencies and support groups. One way to find these resources is by contacting a local, gay social service agency. Friends and family also can be a supportive resource.
The most frequently reported reason why partners stay in abusive relationships is “hope for change” or their “fear of being alone.” Partners believe the abuser’s promises to get help or to change. Experience shows that once a person begins to abuse, the problem is likely to get worse. Get a perspective on your own experience. Abusers may feel guilty and apologetic after an abusive incident and promise themselves and their partner that they will change. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, most abusers do not stop being abusive.